Wade often trades Cardinal red for Auburn
When Eudora resident Kevin Wade traveled to Fayetteville, Ark., in the autumn of 1997 he had no idea what good fortune awaited him in the Razorback State.
A long-time Auburn University fan, Wade and his best friend, Brad Hartman of Garnett, made the four-hour trek to Fayetteville, finding hundreds of Tigers' supporters doing what Southeastern Conference football fans do better than anyone else -- tailgate.
"There were a hundred RVs with Auburn flags," Wade said. "We came across a couple from Pike Road, Ala., and found out they had their own suite at the stadium."
Wade and Hartman befriended the couple, Mack and Shirley Walker, who now jokingly refer to the two men as "their adopted sons from Kansas."
Later that season, the Walkers gave Wade and Hartman tickets to the storied Iron Bowl game between Auburn and Alabama. The 1997 matchup was only the fourth time the Tigers and the Crimson Tide met on the campus of Auburn University. The teams used to play their annual grudge match at Legion Field in Birmingham.
"It was the neatest thing I'd ever seen," Wade said. "How the game turned out was amazing. Auburn kicked a field goal to win by one with one second left."
Some of the other Auburn game-day traditions have impressed Wade, a former Kansas University football player.
"They have a thing called the Tiger Walk," Wade said. "Players and coaches walk from the dorms to the stadium, and 60,000 watch that. That's 10,000 more people than watch KU or K-State games just lining the street to watch the team walk by."
Wade and Hartman were the Walker's guests at the Auburn-Georgia game, one of the South's oldest rivalries, the following year. That's where they met professional wrestlers Bill Goldberg, a former Georgia player, and Diamond Dallas Page.
The 900-mile trip from Eudora to Auburn can be exhausting, Wade said.
"It's a tough trip to make, but once you're there it's more than worth it," said Wade, a Eudora Middle School football coach and high school boys basketball junior varsity coach.
Wade has made the four-hour trip to Fayetteville twice since the 1997 game. He's also attended games against SEC rivals Mississippi at Oxford; Tennessee at Knoxville; and Vanderbilt at Nashville.
Wade said SEC fans supported their team through the good times and the bad. That's something he never witnessed as a Kansas offensive lineman/long snapper in the mid-1990s.
He thought Knoxville was the most amazing SEC stadium other than the one at Auburn, of course.
"There's standing room only for two to eight teams," Wade said of the SEC. "Vanderbilt won one game (in the SEC) and they still have a waiting list for tickets."
"We like to go to an out-of-the-way gift shop that's uniquely of that area," Wade said. "We go to Tiger Rags in Auburn, which is like Jayhawk Spirit in Lawrence, and come out with three or four bags of stuff."
Wade began his obsession with the Tigers in his hometown of Abilene, Kan. Gene Hartman, his friend Brad's father, played football for the Tigers in the early 1970's and later served on the team's coaching staff. The Hartmans would take family trips to Auburn, and Brad, now a girls golf coach and track and field coach at Anderson County High School in Garnett, would tell Kevin about the Tigers.
"At the time, I wanted to be different from all my friends who were KU or K-State fans," Wade said. "Around junior high, I really got hooked on them, and I've been following them ever since."
Bo Jackson, one of the most renowned Auburn football players, didn't even crack Wade's favorite two Tigers list.
"Takeo Spikes -- now with the Bengals -- is my favorite player by far," Wade said. "I got the chance to meet him. He's very intelligent, very well-spoken."
Wade also enjoyed watching defensive lineman Tracy Rocker in the 1980s.
"I liked Bo, but being a lineman guy I watched the linemen," Wade said. "Bo was probably my favorite player of the early 1980s."
Wade also follows the baseball and basketball programs at Auburn, but he doesn't exhibit the same amount of fervor in those endeavors.
"I follow basketball and baseball a little bit," Wade said. "Like every other Auburn fan, it's football first. I go through the paper and see how Auburn did (in other sports). I don't follow it as passionately as I do football."
During his two seasons at Kansas University, Wade still managed to keep tabs on the Auburn Tigers. He said his most memorable tape was Auburn's victory at Florida in 1994.
"When I was playing for KU, I'd always set my VCR for the Auburn game," Wade said. "Frank Sanders caught a little flag route in the end zone to beat Florida (in 1994)."
Coming out of Abilene High School in 1993, Wade had the chance to play for Emporia State, Pittsburg State or Washburn but instead chose to walk on at Kansas University. He made the traveling squad and cites the Missouri road victory in 1994 as his favorite memory of college football. Injuries kept Wade, now a special education teacher at Eudora High School, from competing his junior and senior seasons.
"I couldn't pass up an opportunity to play Big Eight football," Wade said.
Wade and the Jayhawks played against 1994 Heisman Winner Rashaan Salaam and the Colorado Buffalos.
Under Glen Mason, Wade played and practiced alongside current NFL players Gerald McBurroughs, Atlanta; Don Davis, St. Louis; Kwame Lassiter, Arizona's franchise player; and June Henley, formerly the St. Louis Rams, and Isaac Byrd, who played for Tennessee in the 2000 Super Bowl. In 1994, Wade became good friends with then-senior Rod Jones, who starts for St. Louis now.
Although Wade would have never rooted against the Jayhawks as a student-athlete, his loyalties would be split if the Jayhawks were brave enough to schedule Auburn in the future.
"I'd probably have to root for Auburn," he said. "When I was playing, I'd want KU to win. If KU pulled off the upset, I'd be happy for them. I'd probably wear an Auburn sweatshirt and a KU hat."